Movie Review: The Death of Stalin

I was excited this morning, when I spied a post from Joplin’s new indie theater, Bookhouse Cinema. The political satire film, The Death of Stalin, was playing this weekend! This is a movie I’ve been aware of for several months. The reviews have been excellent however, I figured I’d have to catch it later on Netflix.

Not so! Bookhouse listed movie times. I was in the full theater for the 4:15 showing this afternoon.

Movie Review The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin stars Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Adrian McLoughlin, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Paul Whitehouse, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend and Paul Chahidi. This dark comedy, directed by Armando Iannucci, is rated R for adult themes, language and violence, and has a run time of 1 hour and 47 minutes. The movie is adapted from the comic book by the same name, written by Thierry Robin and Fabien Nury. Iannucci co-wrote the screenplay.

The movie begins in March 1953. As he listens to a recording of a concert, and reads a note from an unhappy citizen, Josef Stalin (McLoughlin), doubles over in pain and falls to the floor. When he is found, barely clinging to life, the senior members of his Council of Ministers hastily gather to make important, far reaching decisions. As they jockey for power and position, Stalin dies…and chaos ensues.

Movie Review The Death of Stalin

The Council Members include Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi), Deputy Malenkov (Tambor) who will assume leadership, Anastas Mikoyan (Whitehouse), Vyacheslav Molotov (Palin), Nicolai Bulganin (Chahidi), and Lavrenti Beria (Beale), head of the secret police.

Even though Malenkov steps into authority, he is beset by indecision and swings between emotional highs and lows. This polarizes the rest of the Council Members. Beria, a ruthless man who is responsible for the death of millions, has his own agenda, designed to seize control. The others attempt to safeguard their own lives while wavering between Malenkov and Beria.

Movie Review The Death of Stalin

Stalin’s children arrive to further add to the confusion. Daughter Svetlana (Riseborough) mourns her father and tries to keep her alcoholic brother Vasily (Friend) in check. And Field Marshall Zhukov (Isaacs) brings the stoic discipline of the military into the mix as the uncertainty within the council spills over to the country.

After Stalin’s funeral, the tension between the quarreling would-be leaders comes to a head, forcing decisions to be made that will affect a nation.

Movie Review The Death of Stalin

This was an amazing indie film. What can’t be discerned from my bare bones description above, is that this film is a comedy…a dark one, but full of humor nonetheless. The casting is brilliant, with great energy between the actors. The director made the decision early on to allow the actors to speak in their own accents, rather than attempt Russian ones. The result is Russian historical characters speaking in a mix of English and American accents…and it works.

The portrayals of these players struggling for power after Stalin’s death is over the top, which creates much of the humor, and yet they accurately convey historical events. I always fact check after watching a movie based on real people and real events. The Death of Stalin gets the important details in, although they compress the timeline somewhat.

Movie Review The Death of Stalin

I was amazed to discover that some of the craziest scenes were true! The concert that had to be repeated, after locking the audience into the room, happened…a bit differently than portrayed but Stalin did request a recording of the performance. After failing to set up the recording equipment, the radio manager made the musicians repeat the concert so that Stalin got his record.

Many people in Stalin’s Russia did crazy things, because they were afraid. The dark part of this comedy is realizing that the fear the people lived in was real. Being in the wrong place, witnessing the wrong thing, displeasing those in authority resulted in immediate execution, or worse, a slow torturous death at the hands of Beria and his men.

As a satire, this film works incredibly well. The humor is needed, or this would be a heavy movie to watch. I appreciated being able to break the tension through laughter. And I appreciated as well the glimpse into another country’s history. It’s good to be reminded occasionally of what has transpired in the past so that history does not repeat itself because we are unaware.

I look forward to seeing what Armando Iannucci presents next.

Movie Review The Death of Stalin

Movie Review: A Quiet Place

My sister Linda and I took advantage of our Movie Pass cards, and in my case a free movie ticket because of racked up points, to catch an afternoon matinee. I’ve been interested in the film A Quiet Place since seeing the previews. The movie released in early April, and it’s doing very well, considering its genre. We were ready to see why this monster movie has experienced such a long and successful run.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinki, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward. This sci-fi horror was directed by John Krasinki, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The movie carries a PG-13 rating, for intense scenes of terror, and has a run time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The film opens on Day 89, somewhere in rural America. Lee (Krasinki) and Evelyn (Blunt) Abbott are out on a salvaging mission with their three children, Regan (Simmonds), Marcus (Jupe) and Beau (Woodward). The town they enter appears to be deserted, and the grocery store the family is loading up supplies from is dark and ransacked.

Evelyn carefully sorts through prescription bottles for a drug to give Marcus, who has been ill. The other children quietly look at items left on the shelves, searching for anything useful. When Lee appears with his backpack loaded, it’s time for the family to head home before darkness falls.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

Although this appears to be a typical trip to town for the Abbotts, it’s anything but normal. The family members wear jackets, scarves and caps, and yet each of them is barefoot. And no one says a word. They communicate by sign language. The path home, through eerily silent woods, is carefully marked with a thick layer of sand to soften their footsteps.

It appears that the US, and indeed the world, has come under attack. Most of the population is gone. Those who have survived continue to do so only by remaining silent. A tragic mistake, on the way home, provides a horrifying reminder about the importance of being as quiet as possible. If you make noise, you die.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

The story jumps ahead to Day 389. The Abbotts have settled into a soundless daily routine. Evelyn is very obviously nearing the end of a pregnancy. The children help with chores, receive school lessons from their mom, and play Monopoly at night using cloth pieces on the board. Regan, it seems, is deaf. She wears a cochlear device that her father keeps tinkering with, and yet her world remains deeply silent.

Lee divides his time between providing fish and vegetables for his family, monitoring their property for intruders and sending out SOS radio signals to countries around the world. No one has replied. There are people still living in their area though. They light fires at night, atop towers, to signal that they survive still. Lee rigs up a lighting system around his house and outbuildings. Clear lights mean all is well. Red means danger.

It’s in Lee’s basement room, set up with radios and the monitoring equipment, that signs of what happened a year ago are displayed. He has newspaper clippings, handwritten notes and drawings that tell the story. The world was invaded, in early 2020. One paper headline reads, “Meteor hits Mexico with the force of a nuke”. However, it wasn’t a meteor apparently. Tall, lanky creatures with sharp teeth roam the world, hunting down and killing anything that makes sound. Lee’s notes indicate the creatures are blind, covered with an armored hide that can’t be pierced, and have extremely sensitive hearing that leads them to their prey.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

As the time approaches for the baby’s birth, preparations are made. Lee and Evelyn do as much soundproofing as possible in the basement room. They fashion a box for the newborn, complete with an oxygen source and a tight fitting lid, to minimize sound, because babies are not quiet!

Lee and Marcus leave to check fish traps, after a silent but intense argument between father and daughter. And Evelyn is following her routine when her water breaks, signaling the baby is coming earlier than expected. Afraid and in pain, she inadvertently does the one thing she cannot do, and keep herself and her family safe from the predators. She makes a sound.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

This movie was intense…and very unique. The silence on the big screen, which was complete except for occasional background music and very brief conversations, penetrated into the movie theater itself, deepening the tension. People behind us stopped eating their popcorn, because it was too noisy! I needed to cough once…and choked it back instead. We all became so invested in the safety of the characters on the screen that we hesitated to make any sounds as well.

I loved how unique the story concept was. Sign language was used throughout the film with subtitles provided so the viewers could follow along. The level of intensity heightened the terror of the situation. I jumped several times. Close up camera shots and tight angles allowed the facial features of the actors to convey emotions such as terror or relief. Eyes opened wide, a tear running down a cheek or the mouth open in a silent cry made words unnecessary.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

Other things I appreciated about A Quiet Place include:

Emily Blunt and John Krasinki, who play husband and wife in the film, are married in real life. Their chemistry was amazing. I trust that means they have a wonderful relationship.

John co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, with his wife’s support and encouragement. He is known for several comedic roles, including a part in The Office. He did a phenomenal job carrying out multiple roles in the film.

Millicent Simmonds, who plays the Abbotts hearing impaired daughter, is actually deaf. Krasinki credits her with not only helping the rest of the cast learn American Sign Language, she also made valuable suggestions for scenes in the film, from her life perspective.

And, I liked that very little was explained in the film. The audience was forced to rely on visual clues, that weren’t overly obvious, and some speculation about what had happened in the past and how things might be resolved in the future. Linda and I agreed we would be thinking about this movie for a long time.

At the core of this monster movie is a story about a family learning to adapt and survive, together. The parents vow to protect their children while providing as much normalcy as possible. The children behave like children, most of the time, until more is demanded of them.

The overarching theme of A Quiet Place is love. And it shows. Literally. One of the most poignant scenes comes when Lee signs to his children, “I love you. I have always loved you.” He didn’t have to say the words aloud. They knew. I knew. And a silent tear rolled down my cheek.

Movie Review A Quiet Place

Movie Review: Avengers Infinity War

I just got home from an evening showing of a movie I have highly anticipated. Avengers: Infinity War released last Friday and it’s smashing records already. I’ve carefully avoided reading anything about the movie before viewing it, so I had no expectations. This is a spoiler free review, however, if you have not yet seen the film, be warned that the basic story line is shared in this post, without revealing the ending.

My sister Linda joined me for this movie night, as she has for most of the Marvel Universe films, 18 in total, that have paved the road to Infinity War.

Movie Review Avengers Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War has a huge cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Markie, Sebastian Stan, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Gwenyth Paltrow, Josh Brolin, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper. This sci-fi adventure film, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, carries a PG-13 rating, for intense sequences of action and violence, language and some crude remarks, and has a run time of 2 hours and 29 minutes.

The Avengers films bring together the majority of the heroes, who have been introduced in previous movies, so that together they can defeat a villain whose intentions and/or actions will have catastrophic consequences for the universe.

In Infinity War, there is just such a villain. Thanos (voiced by Brolin), sees himself as the only being who can bring harmony to the thousands of inhabited planets scattered across the universe. His plan is ruthless. Kill half of the population on each planet. He believes doing so will relieve overpopulation, famine, poverty and all the woes that plague those worlds, allowing the survivors to have better lives.

Movie Review Avengers Infinity War

To carry out his cold hearted plan, Thanos must collect the Infinity Stones that have been scattered across the universe. As the film opens, he has two. He is searching for the other three.

The Avengers become aware of Thanos’ quest, one by one. Many have already dealt with Thanos previously or at least know who he is. From their scattered locations, the Avengers begin to come together, not as one large group, but in smaller groups, determined to end this threat before Thanos ends life.

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Cumberbatch), and Spider Man (Holland) eventually team up with half of the Guardian of the Galaxy group…Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt), Mantis (Klememtieff), Drax (Bautista). They go after Thanos, who has kidnapped his adopted daughter, Gamora (Saldana), who is also Star-Lord’s girlfriend.

Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk (Ruffalo) joins Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), Wanda (Olsen), Falcon (Markie) and War Machine (Cheadle) as they protect Vision (Bettany), who has one of the Infinity Stones in his forehead.

This group travels to Wakanda for help, joining Black Panther (Boseman) and Bucky/Winter Soldier (Stan). The people of Wakanda take up arms with them when the battle comes to them there.

And Thor (Hemsworth) travels with the remaining Guardian members, Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Diesel). Loki (Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, is present at the beginning of the movie when Thanos begins his onslaught.

Movie Review Avengers Infinity War

Thanos has power wielding beings helping him to search for the stones. The Avenger groups must battle through these nearly invincible foes before the ultimate showdown with Thanos. Every super power they have, every bit of knowledge and wisdom, every clever gadget and powerful weapon must be used, to save trillions of lives.

WOW was the first word out of my mouth at the conclusion of this long movie. Avengers: Infinity War did not disappoint. Full of action that was incredibly intense, the humorous moments interspersed throughout the film were much needed to allow the audience to catch their breath. I cheered each time a familiar character joined the teams. And it was great to see Pepper Potts (Paltrow), Tony Stark’s fiancĂ©, return in this film.

What I love most about the Marvel Universe films is the camaraderie between the different characters. They each have different powers, different gifts, different background stories. But when Earth, or the universe, is in danger, they rally together, champions defending human kind and non-human kind alike.

Avengers: Infinity War is the type of movie that is best experienced on the big screen, with a responsive audience. After the clip tucked in beyond the credits, we can all blink together, sigh, or turn to each other and say what??!!

Linda and I talked about the movie all the way home. We will be thinking about this latest Avengers film for days. I can’t wait to see it again.

Movie Review Avengers Infinity War

Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine

I have long been a fan of the band, MercyMe. I own several of their CDs and one of my favorite songs of theirs, called Beautiful, is on my iPhone. I listen to it any time I need a reminder about my worth. I also love the song that launched this group…I Can Only Imagine. Like many other people, I listened to it on repeat when it released in 1999.

I love too that a film released recently that tells the story behind the song, listed as the best selling Christian single of all time. I attended a matinee showing yesterday, with my mom and sister Linda.

Movie Review I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine stars Dennis Quaid, J. Michael Finley, Brody Rose, Trace Adkins, Madeline Carroll and Cloris Leachman. This family drama based on a true story, directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, is rated PG for some adult themes, including abuse, and has a run time of 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Young Bart Millard (Rose) may be just a kid who rides his bike and likes to make things from scraps, but he’s already had to learn to cope with difficult things. Life is hard at home, and it becomes even harder after his mom leaves while Bart is away at camp. Bart’s dad, Arthur (Quaid) is an alcoholic who is bitter and angry about the way his own life has unfolded. The career he hoped for in football never materialized. He expresses his frustration by being verbally and physically abusive to his wife and young son.

Movie Review I Can Only Imagine

Bart finds solace in music, drowning out the world by popping on headphones and listening to his favorite cassettes. As a youth, Bart (Finley) attempts to please his father by playing football. But when an injury ends his chances of playing, Bart turns to the high school glee club as an elective class.

His disappointed father sees another football career disappear before it even started, sending him into fits of rage. The only support Bart receives is from his girlfriend Shannon (Carroll) and his Memaw (Leachman).

Bart’s life shifts when his music teacher discovers he can sing. He performs the lead in the school musical and begins to sing regularly at church. As soon as he graduates, Bart leaves home, anxious to be as far from his abusive father as possible.

Movie Review I Can Only Imagine

When he meets some young men looking for a lead singer, Bart joins the group, and even comes up with the name for the new band…MercyMe. Memaw inspired the band’s name. When Bart told her he was joining a band she exclaimed, “Mercy me, get a real job!”

The group travels across the US in a renovated bus, playing any gigs they can get. Life on the road is hard, but the guys work on putting together their own unique sound and catching a break. An opportunity for bigger venues comes when a talent agent, Scott Brickell (Adkins) listens to a performance and offers his help. He encourages the band to find their song by finding their soul.

Movie Review I Can Only Imagine

But the record labels that come to the Nashville show aren’t impressed enough. They see potential but feel the group still has work to do. Bart considers quitting on his dream. He feels he has failed, just as his father predicted he would.

Brickell very wisely sees that the relationship between Bart and his father is preventing the singer/song writer from finding his true voice. Bart makes the difficult decision to return home and settle things with his dad.

Movie Review I Can Only Imagine

Arthur is a changed man, and a dying man. Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Arthur asks for forgiveness from his son. Everything that Bart has done before pales in comparison to giving his dad what he requests. Arthur has been reading a Bible, and working on the shabby house. He knows his time is short. Is there time enough to heal the relationship with his son and find peace before he dies? And is Bart willing to forgive?

This was an excellent film. I like movies based on true stories, and I always appreciate learning the story behind a song. At its core, this is a story about forgiveness and redemption and restoration. It teaches that amazing gifts flow from a healed heart, a whole heart, gifts such as the song I Can Only Imagine. Bart was inspired by his father, and words that Memaw spoke at the funeral, when he wrote the lyrics in ten minutes.

If you’ve always wondered how the song came about, or if you want to watch a family oriented movie that features redemption and restoration, catch I Can Only Imagine at the theater. You will be inspired.

Listen to the song HERE

Movie Review I Can Only Imagine

Movie Review: Rampage

My sister Linda and I made use of our Movie Pass cards to take in the new release Rampage this afternoon. This action flick, loosely based on an arcade game by the same name, promised fun entertainment on a cold spring day. We were not disappointed.

Movie Review Rampage

Rampage stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy. Directed by Brad Peyton, this sci-fi adventure is rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, violence, mild language and a few crude hand gestures…by a giant gorilla! The film has a run time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.

Davis Okoye (Johnson) is a primatologist working with primates in an animal park. He feels a much deeper connection to animals than he does to humans, preferring to spend his time with an albino gorilla named George (body work done by Jason Liles), that he rescued from poachers. Davis raised George. They learned to communicate by way of sign language.

When an illegal gene editing experiment goes wrong in space, the orbiting lab and escape pod explodes, sending canisters crashing to the earth like meteorites. One lands in the primate habitat. The pathogens within the canister escape, contaminating George, causing his body to grow rapidly. He also shows strong aggression and has the ability to heal injuries quickly.

Movie Review Rampage

George is not the only animal affected. In Montana a wolf grows to 30 feet in length, while in the Florida Everglades an alligator is transformed as well.

These mutations are the result of the secretive genetic work of brother and sister team Claire (Ackerman) and Brett Wyden (Lacy). With their test results destroyed in space, they need info collected from the monstrous animals. They beam out a signal that irritates the beasts, drawing them to their city of Chicago.

As the animals move toward that city, Davis teams up with research geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Harris), a former employee of the Wydens. She doesn’t know how to stop the creatures but she was working on an antidote in the lab in Chicago, before she was fired.

The pair is aided by a government agent, Harvey Russell (Morgan), whose original assignment was to “put out this fire”. He quickly realizes standard procedures won’t work and frees Davis and Dr. Caldwell to fly to Chicago in a military chopper to stop the rampage.Movie Review Rampage

And a rampage it has become. The three beasts converge on the city, driven to rage by the radio signal audible only to them. As they lay waste to downtown Chicago, Davis must make difficult decisions about his primate friend, George.

This monster movie was a wild romp. There weren’t any deeper messages or ahas during the film, although the underlying themes were friendship and loyalty. However, it was a fun action packed movie to watch and enjoy. There were funny scenes and even a few touching scenes. But there was no mistaking the intent of this video game made into a movie. It was all about nature running amok and destroying everything in its path.

The muscular Dwayne Johnson excels in the disaster genre and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is always a joy to watch. The real star of Rampage, though, is George. The CGI work keeps getting better and better in the film industry. I ended up caring about that big gorilla who was an innocent victim of unlawful and unnatural experiments.

My intention was to preview this film for my grandkids, who have expressed an interest in seeing it. For the most part, the violent scenes cut away just before blood and gore are shown. And strong language gets muffled out somewhat. My grandkids would laugh in all the right places and fall in love with George. They would find his occasional rude hand gestures hilarious.

I enjoyed this movie. It reminded me of the many many monster movies I watched as a kid…Godzilla and Mothra and King Kong, swamp monsters and werewolves and a plethora of gigantic creatures. These stories are so far beyond what is possible that they can be appreciated for what they are…entertainment. And I was entertained.

Movie Review Rampage

Movie Review: Coco

I’ve wanted to watch this Disney animated film since seeing clips of it at this year’s Academy Awards. This evening I settled into my chair, ear buds in place, and enjoyed Coco on my laptop via Amazon rentals.

Movie Review: Coco

Coco features the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor and Ana Ofelia Murguia. This animated adventure, directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, is rated PG and has a run time of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Coco was nominated for two Oscars, Best Original Song “Remember Me” and Best Animated Feature Film. It won in both categories.

Miguel (Gonzalez) is a 12 year boy living in a small Mexican town with his large extended family. He aspires to be a musician, like the legendary performer Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt), who died tragically while at the height of his career. The only problem is, Miguel’s family has banned music from their household.

Miguel has heard the story often. His great great grandmother, Imelda (Ubach), was left to raise her young daughter Coco (Murguia) alone after her husband left them to offer his music to the world. She vowed that music and singing would never be heard in her family again, as it had cast a curse. To support herself and her daughter Imelda opens a shoe making business, which is passed down each generation, and grows as the family grows.

Movie Review: Coco

Coco is now a very old woman whose memory is fading. She occasionally asks for her papa, even though he has been gone for many many years. On the Day of the Dead, the family is preparing to honor their ancestors by placing their photos on display. The family portrait of Imelda and Coco has had the face of the musician torn away. When the framed photo is knocked over and breaks, Miguel unfolds the rest of the picture and recognizes the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz, the man he wants most to be like. He realizes Ernesto must be his great great grandfather.

Miguel decides to seize the moment and against his family’s wishes, he leaves to enter a talent contest. His grandmother Elena (Victor) destroyed his homemade guitar, so he must find another. In a daring move, Miguel breaks into Ernesto’s mausoleum in the cemetery and “borrows” the guitar on display. Immediately Miguel becomes invisible to the living and is transported to the Land of the Dead, as a punishment for taking the guitar.

Movie Review: Coco

Miguel meets his family members who have died, including his great great grandmother Imelda. They are horrified that he, a living boy, is among them. And Imelda is outraged that her great great grandson wants to be a musician. She has never forgiven her husband for choosing music over his family. Imelda tries to send Miguel home with a blessing, but she makes a stipulation…the boy must never play music or sing again.

Miguel refuses to accept her condition and escapes from his family. He goes in search of his musical ancestor, Ernesto, feeling certain his blessing will allow him to return home and become a musician. As he searches for Ernesto, Miguel meets the charming trickster Hector (Bernal), and enlists his help. Hector promises to get the boy to Ernesto if he will carry back a photo of him. Hector cannot visit the Land of the Living because no one there displays his picture on the Day of the Dead. If his daughter forgets him, as she appears to be doing, then Hector will fade away. He longs to see his child one more time.

Movie Review: Coco

After many attempts to locate the famous Ernesto, the pair finally tracks him down. He is amazed and delighted to discover he has a great great grandson who wants to be a musician. However, Miguel finds out there are mysteries in his family’s past, and he uncovers a dark secret that changes everything. He has until daybreak to secure his blessing and be sent back home, or he will become a permanent resident in the Land of the Dead.

Movie Review: Coco

This was a well done film that beautifully captures the culture of another country and focuses on the importance of traditions. There are sub stories woven through the movie about following your passion and about discovering the larger story and one’s place in it.

I laughed aloud over some of Hector’s antics. And teared up more than once when poignant moments tugged at my heart. Overall, this is a story about family and the ways the members are connected, both among the living and among the dead. I loved the portrayal that those who have passed, or crossed over, are very aware of their family members who still live and come to be among them. Love does not die although over time, memories fade and the stories about those who lived before are no longer told and passed down to younger generations.

Movie Review: Coco

I saw in this movie the power of a vow made in anger and the effects of blessings and curses on a family. I see the same in reality…generations impacted by one family member’s long ago vow, or fearful encounter, or optimistic perspective on life. Families can appear cursed, or blessed, based on an ancestor’s experience.

Watching the movie I felt gratitude for my own ancestors. I have photos, on display, of some of them. I recognized that I am keeping their stories alive and in remembering them, I am preventing them from slipping away. I also realized the importance of hearing stories from my mother and passing those tales on to my children and grandchildren so that for a time, those dear departed ones will live on in our hearts. I need to tell my stories too, and listen to the stories of my family members, so that there are new voices to take up the narratives and fresh hearts to be the keepers of memories.

Coco is a fun film, with much deeper messages to think about, making it one of my favorite types of movies.

Movie Review: Coco

Movie Review: The Circle

I watched this film last Friday evening, for Movie Night during the 7 Day Hygge Challenge. That night the intent of the blog post was to highlight the fun and coziness of the experience. Tonight I share the review for this intriguing film.

Movie Review The Circle

The Circle stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan and Patton Oswalt. This sci-fi thriller, directed by James Ponsoldt, is based on the novel by Dave Eggers. The Circle is rated PG-13, for brief strong language, and has a run time of 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Mae (Watson) feels trapped in a dead end job. When her friend Annie (Gillan) calls, telling Mae she got her an interview at The Circle, the future suddenly seems full of promise. The Circle is a powerful, innovation technology company, run by founder Eamon Bailey (Hanks) and chief technology officer, Tom Stenton (Oswalt). Annie is currently one of the influential 40 in the company, with heavy responsibilities that necessitate frequent travels and long hours.

Movie Review The Circle

Mae’s interview goes well. She is hired to work in Customer Experience, an entry level position that requires her to chat with clients on multiple computer screens. Each client then rates their experience. Mae works diligently to reach an approval score of 100%.

After her first week, Mae begins to learn more about the huge company she is part of. The Circle, a cross between Facebook and Google, uses pioneering technology to bring people around the world together, in real time, and allow them to access everything from one app. The sprawling, circular campus houses buildings and dormitories, containing basically everything their employees need.

Movie Review The Circle

Mae learns that she is expected to be on campus, even when she isn’t working, taking part in the many scheduled activities and programs. Mae meets a colleague at a party. He turns to be Ty Lafitte (Boyega), the creator of TrueYou, one of The Circle’s most popular products. Ty is disgruntled with the company, sharing with Mae that TrueYou is being used in ways he did not intend. Fearing The Circle’s future expansion plans, he shows Mae a secret underground chamber, full of computer banks. Soon, he speculates, everything about every politician will be stored there. And will the tracking of individuals end there?

Movie Review The Circle

Mae is unsure though. The Circle is taking care of her parents, Bonnie (Headly) and Vinnie (Paxton). Vinnie has advanced Multiple Sclerosis and can’t get the help he needs until The Circle intercedes for him, providing him and his wife with housing on campus and cutting edge medical care. And Eamon is charismatic as he leads a company meeting about his latest gadget, called SeeChange. These tiny cameras/computers can be mounted anywhere. They not only provide amazingly clear visuals, they also give continuous information and data. Eamon believes transparency results in accountability. He wants the entire world to become transparent.

Mae pledges herself entirely to the company’s ideals and extravagant goals. After an incident in a stolen kayak on rough seas is captured on a SeeChange camera, making possible her rescue, Mae agrees to become the first Circler to go totally transparent. She will wear a small camera/computer during her waking hours, giving the world unlimited access to her work, her friends and family, and every detail of her life.

Movie Review The Circle

Mae becomes a celebrity. She constantly receives feedback, questions and comments from her viewers. But the continual live feed begins to take a toll on her relationships. Her parents can’t handle living so publicly, and leave The Circle. Mae’s off the grid friend, Mercer (Coltrane), is horrified by her decision and comes under personal attack when he takes a stand against what she’s doing.

Is it true that secrets are the same as lies? Is sharing every aspect of life really a form of caring? And is privacy a theft that deprives others of living vicariously through another’s actions? Mae finds herself at the center of vast, far teaching changes that could have massive implications for the whole world.

Movie Review The Circle

This was an interesting story. It was easy to see that our global society is not far from the tech uses and changes that The Circle explores. We are used to receiving streaming information, of all types, in an instant. We chat via facetime and use our phones to record details of our own lives and the lives or our friends, neighbors and total strangers.

I can catch a glimpse of the world The Circle says is coming, simply by logging onto Facebook. The questions raised by this movie made me think. Is complete transparency good or bad? Will there always be people pretending to live openly who are, in fact, those with the darkest secrets to hide? What happens to those who hold out or prefer to live private lives off the grid? And who makes the rules and enforces them?

Movie Review The Circle

I thought The Circle was a fascinating look at what could be our near future. Did it raise alarms? It did, for me. I appreciate all that technology has to offer and I make use of it. I don’t want to be watched during all of my waking hours. However, when do we cross the point of no return? And will we realize we’ve gone too far, before it’s too late?

I thought I knew how this movie was going to end. And right up until the end, I thought I was right. Oh, how I do love a clever twist, in a thought provoking movie!

Movie Review The Circle

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This was the day for the final movie in the Best Picture category. And, I did it…seven movies in seven days, plus two of the nominated films before this week, equals NINE movies. I’ve never seen all of the Best Picture nominated films ahead of the Academy Awards before. And I realize now what a difference it makes. I will be watching the Oscars differently this year, thanks to this fun experience.

Movie Review Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage and John Hawkes. This crime drama, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, is rated R for language and adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 55 minutes.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Musical Score, Best Actress in a Leading Role (McDormand), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Harrelson and Rockwell both were nominated).

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) has experienced the unthinkable. Her daughter Angela was raped and murdered seven months ago, and the case appears to have gone cold. In the grieving process, Mildred is stuck in the rage stage. No arrests have been made, and in her opinion, Ebbing Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) is not doing enough to find the killer.

She takes matters into her own hands and rents three billboards just outside the city limits. The billboards express her frustration by calling out Chief Willoughby and asking, Why?

The Chief is a well liked man, respected by his men and the community. He explains to Mildred, with sincere sympathy, that although they have DNA evidence from the crime scene, there isn’t a match, not locally, not in Missouri, not anywhere in the US. They have no leads and the investigation seems to have hit a dead end. He reveals to Mildred that he is dying from pancreatic cancer. He doesn’t want emotions stirred up and the town in an uproar because of her billboards.

But Willoughby’s request to take down the messages is met with anger and a determination to keep the public aware of her daughter’s unsolved murder. Mildred’s wrath spills over on everyone, including her surviving child, a son named Robbie (Hedges), and her ex-husband Charlie (Hawkes), who blames Mildred for their daughter’s death. A somewhat rebellious teenager, Angela and her mother fought so frequently that the girl asked to live with her father. The dad told her to stay with her mom. Although there was a great deal of tension between mother and daughter, Charlie convinced Angela that her mom really did love her. A week later, Angela was dead.

The person who most resents Mildred and her signs is Officer Dixon (Rockwell). He is a complex person. Tough, with a bullying demeanor and a smart mouth, inwardly he doubts his abilities and feels unable to become the man he really wants to be. He lives with his controlling mother (Martin), looks to Chief Willoughby as a father figure, and has a very difficult time controlling his temper, which makes him a less than ideal police officer.

The whole town gets riled up by Mildred’s billboards, and her oft times unreasonable expectations. Underneath all her gruffness and sharp words though is a woman living in excruciating pain and guilt. Deep down, she blames herself also for Angela’s death. Rage is so much easier to keep honed and focused than grief and sorrow. But will anger fuel her determination long enough to find the person responsible and bring him to justice? And who decides what justice to mete out?

Pain is the word I would use to describe this movie. Everyone is in so much pain. For Mildred, the lack of closure creates a pain of loss that is unending and time is moving too slowly. For Chief Willoughby, the pain of cancer is literally eating him away and destroying the life he loves, and time is moving too quickly. The son hurts every minute of every day, because of his sister’s brutal death. And Dixon covers the pain he feels over his inadequacies and thwarted ambitions by hurting others.

There is humor sprinkled throughout the film, primarily through Dixon’s childish outbursts or his mother’s crude remarks, but this is a dark story. James (Dinklage) lightens the tone of the film in the scenes he appears in, until he feels rebuffed by Mildred on their one and only date. And then his pain rises to the surface as well.

I have to say that I was relieved to learn that this is not a true story, but loosely inspired by an event that happened twenty years ago in Texas. Ebbing, Missouri is a fictional town.

The acting is incredible in this film and all three actors deserve the nominations they have received. For me, however, this was a depressing story with no redemption or transformation for anyone. The characters are in pain, and they stay there. Chief Willoughby is the most likable of the major characters, a good hearted man with a wife and two young daughters, but his impending death drives him to choose the time of his demise.

Dixon has an opportunity to shift and grow and for a moment, it appears that he will become the man he really wants to be. But disappointing results from his attempt to do a heroic deed dump him back into reactionary mode. And Mildred…heartbroken, guilt ridden, furious with life and the world Mildred…well, she at last decides to take the law into her own hands and act. Or will she? As the movie screen fades to black, I saw just a hint of softening, and the tiniest release of long held tension.

Nine amazing films, and a host of incredible performances. It must have been difficult to choose which movie wins the Oscar. I’m still considering in what order I would rank the movies. How grateful I am for the privilege of watching so many fine films this week. And I am grateful to Regal for presenting the opportunity through their Best Picture Film Festival, and I am thankful I have a Movie Pass card.

I’ll be watching the winners Sunday night, at the 90th Academy Awards. Watch for my review of the evening!

Movie Review Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Movie Review: Get Out

Down to the last two movies as I watch all of the Best Picture nominated films this week, today I saw Get Out. I purposefully avoid reading about the movies before I see them, so that I can watch without others’ opinions clouding my perspectives. I therefore knew nothing about Get Out. And now…I can’t stop thinking about it.

Movie Review Get Out

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root and LilRey Howery. This psychological thriller, written and directed by Jordan Peele, is rated R for language and violence, and has a run time of 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Get Out is nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Kaluuya) and Best Original Screenplay.

Chris (Kaluuya) is headed out for the weekend with his girlfriend of five months, Rose (Williams), to meet her parents. It’s often a nerve wracking experience, to meet the parents for the first time. Chris feels even more apprehensive when he realizes Rose has not told her mom and dad that he is black. She assures him that her parents are not racist and they will welcome him with open arms.

Rose appears to be correct. Dean (Whitford) and Missy (Keener) Armitage embrace Chris, figuratively and literally, claiming to be huggers, and also make it known that they admire and respect former President Obama. “I would have voted for him a third term!” Dean says with a laugh. Missy is a psychiatrist who specializes in hypnosis and Dean is a neurosurgeon. They live on a beautiful estate in a remote location.

However, as Dean shows Chris around the property, he begins to wonder if all is as it seems. A black couple, Walter (Henderson) and Georgina (Gabriel), works for the Armitages, as a grounds keeper and cook, respectively. Although they seem friendly enough, always smiling, Chris notices there is something “off” about the pair. His attempts to have conversations with them are unsettling.

And Rose’s younger brother Jeremy (Jones) walks a fine line between being welcoming and making disparaging remarks, couched in obnoxious humor. Worst of all, there is a huge party scheduled for the next day, and friends of the family will show up. Chris, who is an excellent photographer, had hoped to spend a quiet day capturing nature photos.

Later that night, after a strange encounter outside with Walter, Chris feels forced into a hypnotic session with Missy, who wants to help him quit smoking. He finds the experience disturbing, and although he now dislikes cigarettes, he has strange dreams about being in a sunken place, paralyzed by fear.

The next day, the Armitages’ wealthy friends arrive. They fawn over Chris, trying to relate with comments about Tiger Woods, or by saying that black is in, but they also make inappropriate remarks as well. Chris grows increasingly uncomfortable, although he remains polite and somewhat detached. He meets a blind art gallery owner (Root) who envies Chris’ photographic eye, and another black man, who is about his age. This man, Logan (Stanfield), looks vaguely familiar, but he is awkward in his conversation and manner, just like Walter and Georgina. When Chris takes his picture, the flash causes Logan to snap. He screams at Chris, “Get out! Get out!”

Chris’ best friend Rob (Howery) becomes extremely concerned when he hears about the weekend over the phone. He begs his friend to leave. Chris sends him the photo he snapped of Logan, and Rob, who works as a TSA at the airport, uses his detection skills to uncover that Logan is really a jazz musician named AndrĂ©, and he was reported missing six months ago.

Convinced he needs to leave, Chris finds it may be impossible, after all, to get out. And, he at last discovers the horrifying truth behind all the odd behavior at the Armitage Estate.

As thrillers go, this one is well done, reminiscent of the 1975 film, Stepford Wives. I jumped more than once, and some of the scenes, coupled with the music and the timing, were genuinely creepy. Humor is interspersed throughout the movie, provided primarily by Chris’ friend Rob, breaking the tension when it needs to be broken. And Chris is a genuinely nice guy, devoted to his lady, so much so that he strives to rise above the remarks that get tossed his way.

The actors portraying the Armitages and their hired help do an excellent job of playing people who are more than they appear to be. There are frightening moments captured perfectly through their odd behavior or dead pan expressions.

I enjoyed the film. And yet, I confess that at first, I couldn’t understand why it was nominated for Best Picture. This genre normally isn’t. As I thought about the film, and discussed it with Greg, I realized its proper category is social satire. Satire is defined as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose stupidity or vices, especially in the context of contemporary politics or other topical issues.”

As a satire, the perspective on this movie shifts dramatically. Get Out brilliantly exposes our current social situations in regards to race, by examining the wealthy liberal white and how some put out an appearance of not being racist, while yet attempting to exert control over minorities. This is a deep, and complex subject, that needs to be discussed more openly. Without revealing the ending of this shocking film, I can attest to the fact that it certainly caused me to think and feel and question.

It could be agued that racism goes in multiple directions, and that is true. However, Jordan Peele makes a heartfelt statement that needs to be heard, and in doing so creates in me a desire to listen…really listen. That’s the mark of a great movie, and an invitation for social change.

Satire comes from the Latin word satura, literally meaning poetic medley. Get Out is that, indeed…a poetic story that brings a variety of elements together to offer truth, if we will have the ears to hear.

Movie Review Get Out

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Another Best Picture nominated film and a Netflix TV series prepared me for this movie about British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Season One of The Crown, a series about England’s royal family, gives a glimpse into Churchill’s final years as prime minister. And the film Dunkirk dovetails perfectly with Darkest Hour. Together those two movies cover a historical event from two perspectives, creating a bigger picture.

Movie Review Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldham, Lily James, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Samuel West, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane. This historical drama, directed by Joe Wright, carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes, and has a run time of 2 hours and 5 minutes.

Darkest Hour is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Oldham), Best Makeup & Hairstyling and Best Cinematography.

In the early months of WWII, Hiltler’s armies are advancing across Europe. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Pickup) is forced to step down. He appoints Winston Churchill (Oldham) as his replacement. This story gives an account of Churchill’s first 30 days in office.

And what a dark time indeed to become prime minister. England faces the prospect of invasion as countries fall to Germany. As Churchill gets his feet under him and formulates a plan of action, he encounters resistance and opposition, from King George VI (Mendelsohn) and Chamberlain and his own newly appointed war council.

Supporting him are his loving wife, Clemmie (Thomas), Sir Anthony Eden (West), whom Churchill grooms as a future prime minister, and Miss Elizabeth Layton (James), Winston’s new personal secretary.

As battles rage in nearby France, Lord Halifax (Dillane) pressures Churchill to seek peace. He makes arrangements for Italy to host negotiations between England and Germany, as the British and French troops are forced onto Dunkirk Beach, with little hope of rescue. Although Churchill feels strongly that they should fight to the end and defend themselves against “that man”, as he called Hitler, he begins to doubt himself.

King George comes to Churchill privately, after much reflection, and offers his support. The turning points, for Churchill, come after he launches a campaign that sends 860 private boats across the channel to rescue trapped troops, and when he loses himself among the British citizens and asks for their honest feelings and opinions.

In one accord, England’s people declare their desire to fight against invasion and protect their homeland and their families. They would rather die, they vow, than surrender to a mad man. With renewed strength and confidence, buoyed by the fierce courage of Londoners and the looming successes at Dunkirk, Churchill addresses Parliament, giving a hastily prepared speech that secures his place as Prime Minister, and in history.

I sincerely enjoyed this film. I love historical dramas, and this one was incredibly well done. Gary Oldham was convincing as Churchill. I appreciated the humor and complexities he imbued this towering figure of a man with. I’ve seen many portrayals of Winston Churchill, and this one is my favorite. Gary became Churchill.

I learned new things from this movie as well. I had no idea Churchill had such opposition as he assumed the role of prime minister. It makes what happened in his first thirty days all the more extraordinary. And, I didn’t know how close we came to seeing a different outcome early in WWII, that could have changed the world as we know it. So much hung in the balance. What a tremendous weight on this man’s shoulders and heart.

Most of the time, I propose peace, and I endeavor to live at peace with myself and my fellow humans. But sometimes, we must fight for what we believe in and fight for what we hold dear. By the end of this story, I felt deep gratitude for the man who fought, who stood against opposition and against Hitler, and ultimately ensured freedom and peace, not only for England, but for the rest of the world.

Movie Review Darkest Hour